Feeding the hungry: Student volunteers gain new perspective at Cafe on Vine

Sixth-grade religious education students from St. Mary Parish in Wilton volunteered at Cafe on Vine in Davenport earlier this year. They are, left photo, from left, Tessa Costello, Lucy Costello Bryndle Smith and Aubrey Young

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Sixth-grader Bryndle Smith wasn’t sure what to expect when her religious education class traveled to Davenport to serve free meals at Cafe on Vine earlier this year. “I was excited and nervous about helping those in need,” she recalled.

Sixth-grade religious education students from St. Mary Parish in Wilton served about 60 guests over two Saturdays at the free meal site. Cafe on Vine is open daily to serve anyone experiencing food insecurity, no questions asked.

After meeting people who “have nothing and no home to go to,” Bryndle said she learned that “you should never take anything for granted and there is always someone out there that could use your help.”


“The experience was a great eye-opener for the youth,” said Jean Semsch, a religious education teacher at the parish. “They gained a better understanding of the opportunities in their own lives and the difficulties people may experience with food insecurity.”

Cafe on Vine volunteers participate in a variety of tasks including food preparation, serving food to guests, cleaning dishes, folding towels and setting up the dining room. “Volunteers are the heart

Sixth-grade religious education students from St. Mary Parish in Wilton volunteered at Cafe on Vine in Davenport earlier this year. Charlie Bazal, Easton Pearl, Connor Thornton, Nevin Williams and Collin Lawlor. Not photographed are students Ruby Timmerman and Weston Stranberg, and chaperones Sarah Lawlor, Rebecca Young and Jean Semsch.

and soul of Cafe on Vine,” said Waunita Sullivan, executive director. “We would not be able to continue our ministry 365 days a year without our volunteers; we use an average of seven volunteers each day.”

The Wilton group prayed before each service opportunity, Semsch said. Sixth-grader Aubrey Young volunteered alongside her mother, Rebecca, a religious education teacher at the Wilton parish. “People were lining up before we were even open and peeking in the windows,” Aubrey recalled. “I guess they were hungry!”

A highlight of Aubrey’s experience was helping a woman who uses an electric scooter. “She really needed my help!” Aubrey’s mom believes it helps the students “to realize that the homeless aren’t bad people and that there are many different circumstances that can lead them there. … It felt really good teaching the kids this lesson, as well as how important it is to help others where we can.”

Classmate Nevin Williams said he was a bit nervous about volunteering but once he arrived and began preparing and serving food to people in need, he realized there was “nothing scary” about it. “It felt good to help.”

Collin Lawlor was also a bit apprehensive about the new experience but also excited to give it a try. “I learned how to help people in a new way by making and serving them food,” he said, adding that he would like to volunteer there again.

“The experience made me feel good that I could help others that needed it, instead of just sitting at home,” Charlie Bazal said.

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